Eric Kraus

success

What Climbing Mt Rainier Taught Me About Setting Goals

In August, I had the opportunity to step foot on the 5th largest peak in the contiguous United States. How would I describe it? Epic.

Mt. Rainier is not only a difficult & technical climb, it is used as a training mountain for higher peaks of the Himalayas. Those who have reached the summit will tell you, it is both physically and mentally enduring.

So what grand lessons did I learn from this adventure? Lots. But the most analogous were those to my personal life and career, specifically around goal setting.

Read More …

Advice for Running Meetings More Effectively

We’re all busy these days but there’s nothing worse than wasting time in a meeting. Here’s some advice for running meetings people on your team actually want to attend.



Advice for Running Meetings More Effectively

 

1. Types of Meetings: Choose whether the meeting is a “status” meeting or a “decision” meeting

Make sure that everyone invited is aware of the purpose of the meeting. There are basically two types of meetings: “status” meetings and “decision” meetings. A single meeting cannot be both. For both types of meetings, it is still critical to create an agenda, and it’s equally important that you stick to it.

Meeting Agenda Format

If the purpose of the meeting is to update the team on “status”, everyone (or the appropriate people) should give an update. There are several strategies for this: round-robin, etc. The meeting char/organizer’s job is to allow enough time for everyone to provide his or her status. One additional thing to be aware of is people who consistently volunteer to go first and then leave the meeting early. By not having too many “status” meetings, this should help mitigate that challenge.

“Everyone does NOT need to share an update”

If the meeting’s purpose is to make a “decision”, the focus should be on doing just that. In this meeting, everyone does NOT need a turn to share an update. Meaning, there is no need to do any type of round-robin or “turn-style” sharing. The meeting chair/organizer’s job is to keep the conversation on track and make sure the decision is made by the end of the meeting.

One more thing to consider…if your team is only having status meetings, are you moving the ball forward?

2. Do the necessary prep work

It’s not respectful or productive to schedule a meeting and not share the agenda. You’ve requested that people take time out of their day to attend, and then not give them the full context of what is going to be discussed will appear as a waste of their time. This also goes hand in hand with #1 and a clear purpose.

In most cases, an agenda or an outcome is mandatory. Also, many times meetings take longer than are actually needed. So if at all possible, send out an agenda or any prep work at least a day or two in advance. As a best practice, I always try to do this at the same time I send out the invite.




3. Start late, end early

Being late is rude. Besides that, you’re holding up the meeting from accomplishing its goal. If your team/company’s culture is notorious for being 5 minutes late, start the meeting at 10 minutes after. You’re better off starting “on-time” with everyone’s attention than working through interruptions.

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

This rule also applies to the meeting’s duration. Parkinson’s law says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion“. Meetings always seem to expand to the space they have been given. If you schedule an hour meeting, it will always seem to take that full hour. However, the same meeting, with a bit more structure and focus, could many times be accomplished in 50 minutes or even 30 minutes.

Schedule meetings with agendas that can be covered in 20-25 or 50-55 minutes. This will leave an extra 5-10 minutes before and after as a buffer. Don’t assume everyone will be on-time. Also, don’t expect others will want to stay late either. Having an adequate buffer will ensure the meeting runs smoothly and ends appropriately.

4. Stand, walk or otherwise get away from distractions

We’ve all been in conference calls/meetings where someone asks a question and, following a brief pause, we hear the response, “Umm… can you repeat the question?” This is a red flag that the people are disengaged.

It likely means one of two things:

  1. your meeting isn’t important to them (or they don’t understand why it should be)
  2. the person *thinks* they can multi-task

 


Related: The Worst Advice We’ve Been Given About Productivity


 

If at all possible, schedule meetings in-person, this will significantly reduce the amount of distractions and “multi-tasking”. If you have remote attendees, try using video or having an active “back channel” (email/IM/social) with everyone in the meeting to keep them engaged.




5. Take excellent notes, follow up with the team

It’s unlikely that everyone on the team will be invited to every meeting. Taking good notes allows others to catch up. However, more importantly, even people who DID attend, likely won’t remember everything that was discussed during the meeting.

Notes give the full team, even those that didn’t attend the meeting, a place to go back and review what was discussed. This is probably most critical for confirming follow up action items. After the meeting, send a copy of the notes out to each person invited and get buy-in that they are being ‘accepted’. Later, you’ll have a consistent process for retrieving historical notes and follow up items, validating that they have been completed.

 

Do you have any other tips or advice for running meetings?  Please share them below!

The Worst Advice We’ve Been Given About Productivity

I’ve been talking with other productivity experts about the worst advice on productivity and how they would evolve it to be more valuable. I’ve put together a collection of outdated “tips” and broken down the points of failure and finished it up with a recommendation for a modern update.

 

If you don’t say “Yes”, you’re not a team player

 

Everyone knows this probably isn’t true, but we often feel guilty about saying “no”.  (saying “no” will be a recurring theme across this entire post).  In reality, focus is not about what you choose to do, it’s about what you choose NOT to.  If you always take on too much, you run the risk of over-promising and under-delivering. That is certain to kill your reputation as a reliable teammate. Also, people are horrible at estimating. There are numerous discussions on this topic too.  You may think you can handle a small amount of extra work, but it might really be bad estimating and guilt taking over.

Modern Update:
Choose whether or not you can say “no”. Sometimes you can’t. An alternative to rejecting the ‘ask’ altogether is delegation. Offer to work with the requester to find an alternative person to get the work done. If you have the capacity, offer to supervise the work. It will show your boss that you are a leader and can juggle multiple things at once, without adding a significant amount of extra work to your day.

 

To get everything done, you have to multi-task

 

I hope it’s safe to say most people at least question whether or not this really works. It’s been well proven scientifically (here’s just one example citing sources) that you cannot successfully focus on multiple tasks at the same time. (ok, other than things like walking and chewing gum or listening to music and breathing). In reality, work “tasks” require most of your conscious attention. Think about these activities: email, note taking, blogging, building a presentation, etc. How could you actually work on two at the same time?  Constant switching between tasks takes time and mental strain. It’s similar to shifting between reverse and forward gears in a car. You need to slow down to a near stop before you change gears.

Modern Update:
Pick an activity and work on it for a set amount of time with no distractions. Take a break. Then, go back to work on that activity or, better yet, a different activity.  It’s ok to have multiple projects in flight at the same time, but it’s not realistic to move them all forward at the same rate.

 

Always finish the things you start

 

I start a lot of blog posts that I never finish or publish. However, the content in those posts and the time I spent is not wasted. The content usually feeds the source for one or two different blog posts. And the time writing usually sparks additional ideas.  If I were to finish the original version, it would likely not land the message(s) I want as effectively as splitting the work in half.

Modern Update:
Most large work tasks are longer than the mind’s endurance to do them. Good advice for this is to work on smaller chunks and take frequent breaks. Taking breaks is an essential practice and gives the mind time to reflect on the work done so far. Also, look for opportunities to get better return on your smaller investments. If you can split a blog post into two, likely the message in each of those is more concise and the additional work to “double” your output is minimal.

 

Brainstorming helps you predict problems and avoid them

 

Ok, this is somewhat true. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t plan or be prepared. Always be prepared. However, don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis about things that are theoretical. I love the quote, “The best way to stay in business is to be in business”  Meaning that, you learn so much by being in business vs. just planning to be in business. The same goes for productivity. You learn a lot more by doing things than you do by planning for them.

Modern Update:
Never let perfect get in the way of good enough. Do minimal (but necessary) preparation and start your work right away. Don’t get discouraged by a change of course. Embrace iterative design. It is much easier to adapt your work as you go than try to plan for perfection.

 

You Do Your Best Work Under Pressure

 

While some people have produced more quantity of work while under pressure, it is likely not their best quality. Research shows, most people actually choke under pressure. Some of the best examples of this are in sports. Just read about “The Comeback”. Too much stress causes you to think about other aspects around what you are doing, less on what you are actually doing.

Modern Update:
Nothing will beat proper planning, preparation and prioritization of your tasks (see Time Management). Planning the right things to do, giving yourself enough time to do them and taking frequent breaks to review your work will always produce your best quality output.

Time Management

I have been experimenting with different aspects of productivity lately.  Everything from waking up early, meditation to time management.  Time management?  Blah Blah Blah.  I always thought time management practices were something sold to people who were highly disorganized.  I used to think: “I’m not disorganized, I’m just really busy”.

Productivity Definition

“Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals.”

It took my research into ‘productivity’ to really discover the truth.  I found it easiest to relate to Asian Efficiency’s simplified definition of productivity: “Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals”.

The two keys to productivity here are:
1. setting goals
2. working towards them.

Denial

In my past thinking, “busy” was accomplishing the “time working” portion…and I thought I was done.  However, I was missing the most important part: “setting goals”.  Without a plan or goals for the day, I was a bit scattered.  I worked on things as they came in, was often distracted away to the next “important” thing and I never felt fulfilled after the day was done.

I have come to admit: “I was disorganized.”

Goal Setting Practices

I recently started practicing a morning ritual (following meditation) of goal setting.  For no more than a couple minutes, I dedicate time to plan out my day.  I pull from a general list of tasks that I gather throughout the week (Wunderlist) and categorize them into three major buckets for the day: MUST DO, BLOCK TIME, OPEN.

MUST DO: These are items I absolutely need to accomplish for the day.  I try to do these items first thing, if I can, before I even leave for work.  The better I am at this, the more I’ve opened my day up to work on the other things or handle the “urgent” firedrills that are thrown my way.

BLOCKED TIME: These tasks are ones that are all similar in nature: checking email, reading blogs, etc. I’m the type of person that, if allowed, can easily take 30 minutes to reply to a single email.  Time boxing helps force me to get through as much as possible.  At the end of the day, unless it’s an email to an officer of a company, it shouldn’t take 30 minutes to compose.  I also don’t have time to read through the 1,000s of blog posts I subscribe to.  So, I use this blocked time to read through my Saved list of posts (not the most recent ones that came in). [future post coming on my blog/feed reading strategy].  The key is to stick to your time block, whatever it is: 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc, and then move on to the next item.

OPEN: These items are things I can get to when I’ve completed all other tasks.  Here I include things like choosing blog posts I want to Save for later, replying to more emails, researching something, reading, etc.

Practice

Early on, it felt like I would never be able to block time for things like email, let alone get to the “open” items on my list.  Before, I never had time to read a book, and I wished I did.  So, I was curious to see how this would go.  The biggest lesson learned for me was noticing the days where I completed my goal setting ritual vs. the ones where I just rolled out of bed right into my day.  The days where I effectively set goals, I was much more likely to have felt “caught up” early in the day.  Also, dedicating one or two uninterrupted blocks to do email was by far more efficient than 60 separate 30 second quick replies as email came in.

“…it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day”

The snow ball effect of freeing up time was another eye opener.  While I might not have gained a full hour back in my work day, it significantly reduced the amount of time AFTER work that required my attention.  Getting my evenings back to “personal time” allowed me to actually get to the “open” items and it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day.